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A Lovely Shade Of Blue: Truth In A Story

"Story communicates directly with the imagination and with the emotions, so is often a more effective way of delivering a message than giving a direct description of what you want to say.'' writes Claire George.

Some Christians believe that every word of the Bible should be taken literally. For them Adam and Eve really were the first people on Earth, and Jonah really did spend three days in the belly of a big fish. Without wishing to disrespect Christians who have that brand of belief, I would like to put forward the alternative story of Christianity.

Many Christians believe that the Bible is a mixture of literal truth (for example, Jesus really was crucified and really did rise from the dead) and instructive story (Jonah did not actually spend three days inside the fish, but the story contains truth about God's love for the world).

There is a tale that helps us understand the role that story plays in teaching us things that are true. It was told to me by Philip at Bridge House.

Once upon a time there was a dirty, ragged urchin girl who lived in the marketplace of a busy town. Nobody paid her any attention because she was so small and dirty and poor. One day a beautiful woman came into the marketplace. Everybody looked at her because she was so gorgeous. She walked through the market with all eyes on her and sat down in the middle.

The little girl went up to the beautiful woman and stared up at her.

"I wish I was like you," said the little girl. "Everyone looks at you."

The woman smiled and said, "What's your name?"

"My name is Truth," said the girl.

"Well my name is Story," said the woman. She picked up the girl and wrapped her inside her cloak.

Truth has been with Story ever since.

In the Gospels Jesus tells stories called parables. On the surface they look like stories about ordinary people doing ordinary domestic and agricultural things. But when you think about them a little, you see that each story has a message. For example, the parable about the man who built his house on rock and the man who built his house on sand is actually about building your life on solid things like love and God, rather than on insubstantial things like money and greed.

Story communicates directly with the imagination and with the emotions, so is often a more effective way of delivering a message than giving a direct description of what you want to say. Take this (entirely fictional) story for example:

Cassandra, a youth worker, was fed up with the way that adults talked about teenagers. Whenever a teenager got into trouble, the adults would condemn him or her as a bad apple.

She hated the way that newspapers reported on anti-social behaviour among young people. Youngsters were stereotyped as thugs and hooligans. 'No wonder so many are angry. Adults actually cross the street to avoid them!' she thought.

"The big problem with our society is that too many people demonise the young. They're too judgemental, they never think about the emotional and home life problems that cause teenagers to act up," she often said.

Cassandra was extremely proud of the fact that she was making a difference by listening to the kids and finding out about their lives.

Cassandra had an older friend called Ruby who really annoyed her. Ruby was always saying that the kids in the older youth group should get off their backsides and do some work.

It was the sort of thing they said in the 1950s when teenagers were expected to be seen but not heard. Cassandra thought that Ruby wasn't treating young people as individuals.

One day Ruby was at the youth group and she saw the youngsters lounging on the sofas chatting to each other.

"I wish they'd go outside and dig in the garden," Ruby said. "I hate seeing them inside all day. It's such a waste!"

"Leave them alone," snapped Cassandra. "They're not layabouts. They have the right to do whatever they like. You're too judgemental."

"But Cassandra, that's not what I'm saying!"

"So what are you saying? Get off your high horse. Life's very difficult for them! I'm fed up with your judgemental attitude!" Cassandra growled. She walked off without giving Ruby a chance to reply.

Ruby often felt quite angry with Cassandra's attitude. She thought Cassandra was the judgemental one!

Ruby wanted the teenagers to do some volunteer work to gain skills, pride and self-respect. She also thought that it was healthier for them to keep busy. She was retired and she understood that empty days could lead to depression.

Ruby needed things to do because she had too much time on her hands. She had wanted to talk to Cassandra about volunteering with the youth group. She often felt very down.

She actually cared about the youngsters, but Cassandra didn't seem to understand that.

On the surface this story is a simple description of two friends who misunderstand each other and about people's attitudes to teenagers. However, if you look more carefully it delivers another message. It is that believing you are less judgemental than others can lead to you being judgemental.

Cassandra has a sympathetic attitude towards teenagers and sees that other adults are unsympathetic. But she is too proud of being tolerant and too ready to assume that other people are not. When Ruby has an idea that she can't immediately understand, she assumes that Ruby is being unsympathetic towards the kids and condemns her.

As this is a story we can see how unfair Cassandra's behaviour is. We feel outraged for Ruby, angry with Cassandra, and see how foolish it is to be too proud of being tolerant. The story teaches us about this issue in a far more emotional way than the simple line "it is wrong to be too proud of being tolerant."

This is why stories are very important in the Bible and in the Christian faith.

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